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People Who Forgive Feel Better

Psychology just doesn't mean addressing disorders such as anxiety and depression. It's also about the quality of life and one area that affects people's lives is the ability to forgive.

      Forgiveness has gained more attention these last few years by the medical community and curiosity about the effects forgiveness has on mental and physical health has reached the laboratory where researchers actually try to measure forgiveness' impact.

      What exactly is forgiveness? At a presentation Sunday at the American Psychological Association's 108th Annual Convention researchers defined forgiveness as a person's ability to overcome resentment toward an offender. Forgiveness does not mean "letting a person off the hook," says Charlotte C. VanOyen-Witoliet, a psychologist at Hope College in Holland, Minn. When a person forgives someone, she explains, they're not dismissing the fact the offender did something hurtful, nor is it the same as reconciling. You can forgive someone, but not resume a relationship with that person. "Forgiveness may lead to reconciliation," VanOyen-Witoliet says, "but it is different from it."

      Scientists are finding that people who forgive exhibit better physical and mental health than those who harbor negative feelings about the event that offended them. VanOyen-Witoliet presented findings from studies conducted by other researchers showing that those who were able to forgive their offender had lower rates of anxiety and depression. These studies included victims of incest, men who were angry their partners had decided to have an abortion and adolescents who forgave their parents over a particular incident.
      

Physical Benefits of Forgiving
The benefits of forgiveness transfer to the physical body, too. Studies presented by VanOyen-Witoliet showed those who could forgive had reduced blood pressure and fewer heart problems. Those unable to forgive, regardless of whether the incident had occurred a long time ago, the offender had apologized, or even if the incident had not been very severe, showed higher blood-pressure rates, tension around the eyes, an increase in sweaty skin and overall higher stress levels. VanOyen-Witoliet also pointed out research suggesting hostile behavior is associated with heart disease and premature death. Those who forgave their offenders showed lower levels of hostility. Forgiveness, she says, "may buffer and ultimately enhance health."

       Michael E. McCullough of the National Institutes of Health and a speaker at this lecture found similar findings when trying to measure forgiveness. Those who forgive, he says, are replacing old, negative feelings, with new, positive feelings. "Forgiveness becomes a contrast between before and after," McCullough says. "The more you say you still want to get even, the less you are forgiving."

Reference Source 63

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